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Originally an email recommendation of Nial Ferguson's book Empire

I'm approaching 3/4 of the way through Niall Ferguson's Empire, and finding it intensely interesting. His works, or his style, give unique impressions. It's because he attaches everything to a personality and event, and you sense he is a very competent guide in what he selects to give impressions of the whole. You can tell he's writing from a position of having attained understanding of his material.

He's not grinding any political or ideological axe either. He's almost purely true in his objectivity and what he presents in those terms.

You English types, current or derived, need to read this book.

Anyway it's a universal historical subject. Awhile back I mentioned that the French Revolution was a historical subject that contains within it universal patterns and events and subject matter that is repeated in modern history, so it's a subject worth knowing. I will say the same about the historical subject of the British empire. You really, really see it when you traverse over it in a history like this. You see so many themes of what is happening today and how people think today.

There is also the element that I hinted at in a previous email where I get impressions this subject matter has meaning for the future as well.

There is also this: it struck me today as I was reading that this is the view angels see the history of nations from. This perspective [I think what I meant by this is the speeded up changes that you see in the unfolding British empire and the foundational changes caused by it; i.e. it has a speeded up time element]. Once England took the leap into the unknown and all that is now called 'empire' unfolded it was all riding a higher plane. Ferguson uses a word which I'm not sure is traditional English usage: running. Or make the running. Maybe it's a British thing. But it denotes in the text the vigorous acts of the individuals in moving forward into unknown territory and virgin business enterprises or just a sort of crazy, inspired moving forward into danger and God knows what to learn and conquer or do whatever. The parts about David Livingstone are strange like that. He basically walked across the entire continent of Africa like three or four times. Talk about not being scared of anything.

Well, you'll have to see for yourself. I think this Ferguson guy is a unique historian. - C.

[For the record I read Niall Ferguson's The Ascent of Money prior to this and I give it a similar recommendation. The two books actually compliment each other.]


Blogger c.t. said...

By mentioning David Livingstone I fear I may have given the impression the book is about popular level stories, but *how* he depicts Livingstone is what is unique. That in fact is one of the features of Ferguson's approach. He approaches history from slightly different angles, but not in a way to just be different, but to get at truth and give real perspective that communicates to our way of seeing in this current time.

This book is actually a straight forward type of history based on statecraft and the usual events and personalities, the ways of the world, concentrating a lot on India, but also extensive coverage of America, West Indies, Australia, Africa, China, the middle east, etc. He uses a lot of documentary style strewn throughout as well.

The interplay between England itself and the various outposts is a running theme.

But overall the impression is more, or bigger, than the parts.

June 3, 2012 at 7:36 PM  

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